How do build a simple “clip on” guttering system in your lunch hour for less than $10

I love design, I love simplicity. I love the idea that we can rethink cheap readily available materials and use them in a way that was not imagined by the manufacturer. So in the video below I show how I use 75 mm diameter PVC down pipe as a guttering system. Building a rain water harvesting system normally takes a complicated range of fittings brackets screws and masonry anchors.But very often the same objective can be achieved using only 75 mm diameter PVC down pipe and elbow fittings.Watch this short video to see how we use this idea at Pebblespring Farm.

 

Click here to watch this excellent little video

 

 

pvc pipe

 

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Law of the farm number 17: “Don’t sell the farm to buy a tractor”

One of my favourite “tools” on the farm is our little 160cc Suzuki quad bike. My friend Eldred had it lying around in his garage and gave it to us as a gift when we first bought the farm. What I like about it is that it’s small and light, but powerful enough to take a load of fence poles or drag a log out of the dam.

Having a big fancy John Deer tractor would be great, but very expensive, so right now we make do with what we have. The heavier puling tasks the quad bike can’t handle, I use my 4X4 for. The big digging and pushing tasks I hire in a TLB at R300.00 per hour. No, it’s not ideal, but I am working within the realistic limitations of what we have and how best we should invest what we have. And what’s more, the quad bike is agile, it has a tight turning circle, it can manoeuvre through narrow paths in the forest. Places where a tractor just could not get right now. The quad bike is also light on the ground, it will not easily compact the soil or sink into muddy patches. Oh yes, and of course, it doubles as a toy. I feel quite comfortable to let even smallish children take turns up and down the driveway on the quad bike. I would not be able to let them do this with a tractor.

My policy favouring a quad bike (for now) over a tractor I suppose comes out of a long tradition where my grandfathers’ grandfather would have had to make such conscious choices all the time. My grandfather’s grandfather would have lived on a farm; he would have known that if he invested too heavily in extravagances he would struggle to feed his family. If that meant walking to town because he could not yet quite afford a horse cart, then I guess that is what he would have done. If that meant housing is family in a one roomed cottage, that is what he would have had to do. That’s just the way things were, and actually that’s still the way things are.
Except…
Our modern urban lives have helped to blur the lines between what is possible and what is impossible. Banks and other credit giving business have created the illusion that we can have anything we want right now. All we have to do is sell our future lives to them. All we have to do is to agree to labour for them. So we buy the horse cart, or the three roomed cottage or the tractor, but we sell the very thing we were trying to attain by entering into the bargain. Let me be clear. In some way or other, we are always trying to be free. When we buy something or build something it is in order that we may be free. Free from discomfort, free from toil and struggle, free from inconvenience. We are always trying to buy our freedom. The banks and credit giving institutions know this, but also know that we have become conditioned to selling our very freedom, our future time and energy for the privilege of having right now what we actually can’t afford to have right now.
The debt trap has become so common and so widespread that it has become generally accepted that this is the route any young person should follow when leaving home and embarking on their journey to independence. Young people who do not go into debt to buy cars, clothing and big screen televisions risk becoming social outcasts. There are the brave ones that do resit the trend, but these are a very small, very courageous minority of thought leaders.
I must be careful to clarify that I am not speaking out against debt as a concept; I am speaking here about moving toward some acceptance that debt is a very powerful and at the same time a very dangerous tool. Clever people have learned how use debt to invest well and build empires that serve them and their families for generations. But debt is dangerous. Like dynamite. Not something to hand out an street corners to children , but something to entrust to experienced miners who after years of training, know how to apply its force surgically and precisely to extract the ore from the rock. Right now, we are suffering a pandemic of indebted , young and old, running around dazed through the city streets with sticks of dynamite blowing off hands and limbs.

 

I am not saying that buying a tractor is a bad idea; I am not saying that debt is a bad idea; I am saying that we must be become skilled before making decisions so that we are not tricked into selling the farm to buy the tractor.

Law of the Farm number 16: ”When it’s hot, work in the shade”

February 2015

I did not get as much work done over the weekend as I would have liked. I did make good progress with a small hen house that has become an urgent need. The chickens are now roaming free in the paddock near the cottage. They are behaving very well and have not been eaten yet. Perhaps they are trying to reassure me that they don’t need to be locked up at all. My intention though is just to make sure they are locked up at night, primarily to protect them from predators and secondarily to make it possible for me to find the eggs that would otherwise be laid all over the show. But just watching these beautiful chickens roaming around through the grass and shrub over the weekend had convinced me that that is how they should be allowed to go about their lives.
Gary – using his head on a hot day!

I enjoy the physical task of putting together a chicken coop from scrap wood, or clearing the forest with the chainsaw or building fences or clearing the dam of reeds. Solitary work for me is very satisfying. It’s a kind of meditation. I allow myself to be completely in the present moment. Yes, I have a plan of what I would like to do, but I allow most of my mind to focus only on what I am doing right now, and then the very next step. In this way my work sometimes becomes “meandering. As the next step may be to cut a board, I would power up the generator, only to find that I need to fill up with fuel. I would fill up with fuel only to find that the extension lead that I need to run from the generator to the cross cut saw is hopelessly tangled and I would spend time untangling it. I would cut the board then realise then match it to another, realising that in fact the structure will need to be a bit narrower than I thought; to match an ideal board that I have that would work well as a hen house floor. And so on. I let each step guide me to the next and I make peace with each step and am fully involved and present to each step.

I was able to do most of the cutting work indoors, bet the assembly work had to be done outside or I would not be able to get the structure outside once it was fully built. It was damn hot on Saturday and I could feel the sun beating down on me. When I felt the heat was too much, I would step inside, sweep up the saw dust. Or make some tea. Or repack the tool box. This is the way I prefer to work. Not as a slave who is driven to work at a task regardless of where our energy is. I have come to see work as being something I must have “energy” for. I am sure that “energy” is not the right word. It’s more like I must “feel” the task, I must have an appetite for it I must “desire” the task. If I can work when I am in this task, I find that I am super creative; I am energetic and can keep going for very long periods of time. Perhaps this is why I prefer solitary work? Often the people I would be working with would drain my energy somehow. Especially if have employed cheap casual labour. Often I would find that the fact that they are in my space, make me not want to work myself. Its illogical, it’s irrational I know, but I am just telling you how it is with me.
So when it is hot, I work in the shade. Or I work wherever I feel that the “energy” is where I have an appetite to work, where I have desire. Sometimes when it is hot I will find a task in the shade that I have desire for. Sometimes I don’t find energy for anything and all I want to do it sip my tea and stroll through Facebook. I have stopped whipping myself for that. Sometimes the only thing I feel like doing is having a short nap under the oak tree. I have come to trust that my desire for the tasks that need doing will return.
The problem is that the modern urban world that we have built does not very much like law of the farm number 16. In fact the modern urban world says. “when it is hot, just keep on slogging because if you don’t we are gonna fire your ass” the modern urban world causes you and I to believe that physical and mental work is meant to be un pleasant and it is just something that we have to endure in order to by the privilege of having somewhere dry and warm to sleep at night and to send our children to school. The modern urban world tell us to distrust any “feeling” and “energy” any desire or appetite that you may have to slow down with the task you are busy with or any inclination you may have to rather do some other task for an hour or two. The modern urban world tells us that you and I are not best placed to decide how to spend our time, our energy and our lives. These decisions are best left to people who give us “jobs”. In fact we begin to believe ourselves that we cannot be trusted with our own energy, because when our jobs give us “leave” or a weekend off, all we do is crash on the couch and play Xbox. The truth is that these jobs have exhausted us physically and mentally to such an extent that we probably need some time to recover, given time, we would get off the couch, begin to feel our own energy, beginning to trust our own desire. But in most cases, just as this sense begins to return, we are summoned back to the office, for another week, another 11 months of being told what to do with every waking hour.
No, I say this is not the way. This way of living is contradiction of a fundamental law of how things are. This modern urban way of life is a direct contravention of law of the farm number 16 “When it is hot work in the shade” But no, don’t go off and resign your job today. Small steps first. Begin today, right now to “feel” what it is that you want to do with the next hour of your life. You may be so tired that all you want to do is sleep. Even if you can’t take a nap, the very step of being conscious of what you want to do with your time is a step in the right direction. Take 10 minutes quite time every morning your tea break. Switch off your office mind of deadlines, payments and reviews. Become silent in your mind. Don’t think. Just feel what you are feeling. At first name the emotions that you are feeling. Don’t judge them, just name them, acknowledge them, and preferably write down the name of what you are feeling. Then as a second step, feel what it is that you need to be doing with your time, where your energy is. Preferably write it down. It may take a long time before you are able to act on these desires, but that time will come.

Law of the Farm Number 12: “The Porcupine does not consider digging up bulbs as work”

Of course I don’t know what goes through the porcupine’s mind when it digs up the bulbs of our arum lilies. In fact I don’t even know for sure that it’s is a porcupine that is destroying these beautiful plants with their distinctive white cone shaped flowers with the bright yellow poker protruding from the centre. I am assuming it is a porcupine because when I post pictures of the damage on Facebook, my clever friends tell me that it is only a porcupine that makes that kind of damage and that porcupines absolutely love arum lilies. I was actually secretly holding out for the hope that we had bush pigs on the farm. That would be exciting. Perhaps we have porcupines and bush pigs? It’s very hard to say because these animals move around in the dead of night and are very shy. But whether it is a porcupine or bush pig destroying my prized plants, I strongly suspect, that when they are digging the deep holes in the soil required to access the tasty bulbs, that they do not for a second think that they are “working” in the way that you and I may think we are working when we report to the office and begin to wade through our inbox or finish the report or sit through the meeting or return phone calls. When I see pigs digging for roots or rolling for the mud they look to me as if though they are having a huge party. In fact many clever farmers have now taken to sprinkling a few kernels on grain into massive compost heaps that need to be turned. The pigs go crazy having a great time turning over the mountains of compost at the cost to the farmer of a few handfuls of grain.

But you and I have been conditioned differently. It’s not that we are afraid to exert ourselves mentally or physically. We are quite happy to exert ourselves on the soccer pitch to the point where our legs burn and we spit blood. We are quite happy to put our brains to the test playing scrabble or Grand Theft Auto. We have come to buy into the idea that these are “leisure time” activities and that it would be crazy to build up a sweat (or a headache) doing any productive work outside of office hours or school hours. Well, call me crazy, but I love to do physical work. I love the feeling of using my muscles, my arms and my legs. I love the rhythm of thinking and doing. I love the feeling of physical exhaustion in the evening.  I love the supper time retelling of the achievements of the day and I love the deep satisfied sleep that follows it. (I especially remember the very satisfying time working with my late father on his wooden house in the forest)

 It seems strange to me therefore, that I have put so much time and effort in my life to ensure that I don’t have to do any physical work at all. My twelve years of schooling in maths, literature, history and science required no “doing”, no lifting or pushing. It did though; prepare me for another five years of study at University which would eventually deliver to me the degrees I required to become an Architect and be guaranteed of never having to push a wheel barrow, thrust a spade into the ground or cut firewood.

On leaving University, life as a young professional was clear, nobody ever handed out a rulebook, but the understanding was that we must put in time at the office to earn our money, but if we put in too much time we will break down, so we must take some of that money to buy “leisure”. That leisure must not involve doing anything productive or meaningful.  We may choose from a vast array on mindless sporting or cultural pursuits. We may participate or spectate. If the mindlessness of the leisure becomes unbearable, we may numb ourselves with alcohol, sugar or nicotine. This is just how it is.

I can see how in the headlong rush to get to the ‘top of my game” I have moved further and further in my career, away from actually doing any work. Like lifting a pencil, to sketch a chimney detail or calculating the fall and cover of a drainage installation. All of that is “outsourced”, because that is the law of competition and the law of competition says that, if I am an expert at running an architectural practice, I can’t be “wasting” my time actually being an Architect. I must spend my time delegating, checking what others have done, motivating, admonishing, fighting with debtors, apologising to creditors because that’s what we do when we get to the top of our game.

Does any of this ring true for you in your life? Perhaps, what each of us needs to do is sit back and look at the route we have walked to get where we are in our careers. Each of us needs to get down and do the dirty work of thinking through how we have been conditioned to look down on anyone doing physical work. Even in our homes, when we can’t resist the instinct to get our hands in the soil that we are married to, we make every attempt to dress up our gardening activities as “leisure”. We call gardening a “hobby”; we don’t call it “work”. When we can absolutely not resist the instinct to grow fruit and vegetables, a productive pursuit, we hide these away in the back yard.

So, what I am doing in my life about my dysfunctional relationship with work? I suppose, I am slowly beginning to participate, wherever I can, in actually doing stuff. I am also looking for family traditions and practices that involve real work, even if it just taking the time to cook the mother’s day meal.  Some families in our region are fortunate to belong to a tradition where work is still honoured. If you drive through the streets of New Brighton or NU 7, on any given Saturday you will find clan groups participating in “Imisibenzi” (literally translated as “works”). These traditional functions mark a range of special occasions, but what is interesting, is that everybody attending the function works. From the slaughtering of the beast, to the processing of the meat to the brewing of the beer and the peeling of the carrots. Hosts and guests work together. Honouring tradition and honouring the idea of work and how it is in fact not separate from leisure. To a lesser degree, but not entirely dissimilar, on any given Sunday in the suburban backyards of Summerstrand and Sherwood we find  family groups around the braai, spicing the meat, turning it on the flames. The hosts and the guests working together, some in the kitchen with the potato salad and toasted sandwiches and others outside with the chops and the wors. These are important traditions to hold onto, where the tendency is toward the American situation where 43% of all meals are no longer prepared at home and where work is generally regarded as something you sell in exchange for cash.
So more and more I come to see that any activity that helps me understand that work is not separate from leisure and that work is more than just a commodity for sale, is where I want to be spending my time.

 

Because this separation of work and leisure, is not of the natural order, it’s certainly not way of the farm, in fact it contradicts the law of the farm which states that:  “The Porcupine does not consider digging up bulbs as work”

Law of the farm number 9: “The fence works because the bull chooses to stay behind it

February 2015
 
I did not get a chance to watch the State of the Nation address last night. Things were a little busy. I made a presentation to a community meeting in Gqebera about a project, then Hlubi and I went to a function at the Radisson Hotel, introducing their new chef. But when we go back home we watched some of the footage from the debacle. The EFF were forcibly thrown out of Parliament, the DA walked out in protest. The discussion this morning on Facebook and Twitter is about how irresponsible it is for the EFF to walk out and to be disruptive. I am not that interested in politics. I get the sense that the energy I may commit there is so indirectly applied. My feeling is that I should be making more direct action right now. I am interested though in the principles, the fundamental laws that are illustrated by everyday events like the EFF being “goose-stepped” out of Parliament. Because we see this again and again around the world, when a dominant group abuses its power, those that resist them are left with no alternative but to break the rules. We saw this with Apartheid, where the inflexibility of the National Party, lead to the ANC eventually resorting to the armed struggle, “breaking the rules”. We saw this will the Palestinian Liberation Organisation “breaking the rules” in its response to Israel evicting Palestinians from their homeland. More recently we have we seen AL Qaeda and Osama bin Laden broke the rules very dramatically, flying passenger airlines into the World Trade Centre, breaking even the rules of international terrorism.  These acts of “breaking rules” are a pattern that repeats itself again and again no matter how far back in history you would choose to look. Oppression by the powerful will inevitably result in revolt, and very often the revolt is violent and ugly. Where the powerful have been successful in holding onto their power is where they have set up process, that make those that have less power feel included, to feel as if though there is remote chance that by participating in the processes that they will be able to impact the way things are. The other thing successful powerful groups have over the millennia, is to exercise grace and restraint. They have not wielded all the power they have been able to wield; instead they directed a fraction of this power to making sure their citizens were happily distracted. The Romans built the coliseum to house the gladiators, the Americans built Hollywood to house the movie industry.
 
Our Calves at Wittlekleibos
 
The point that becomes clear is that a hungry, unhappy population that feels that is not being taken seriously, is a very serious threat to the entire system. (including the unhappy population that are a part of it) The dynamic between the powerful and the powerless is governed by fundamental dynamics. It is governed by a “law”. This is a law that applies to the way people live together, but it runs much deeper, it applies to the way organisms live together and interact. You see, the fundamental law that applies to these relationships is Law of the farm number 9: “The fence works because the bull chooses to stay behind it.”
There was a  time (before I owned my own livestock) when I believed that the fences I saw between the cattle on the side of the road and the highway that sped past on, was what was keeping the animals from wondering into the traffic. I was wrong. A cow is an incredibly big animal; it can weigh 500 kg and more. If it decides that it would rather be on the other side of the five strands of wire that divide it from where it would want to be, then it will jump over, or walk through. Believe me I have seen this happen in front of my eyes, many times. In fact when I first began to buy calves to build our cattle herd, I was amazed at how these seemingly docile creatures were able to be such accomplished escape artists. My strategy then was to buy three month old calves that had just been weaned from their mother. I had negotiated to make use of some land in Tsitsikama, where Hlubi’s family had some historical connections to community land that had been returned to the community by the government.  It’s a long story, but Hlubi’s mother’s family is part of the Mfengu grouping, who were granted land by the British in the 1800’s in exchange for loyal service as mercenaries during the hundred year Frontier wars that raged in the eastern cape between the British and the Xhosa. The Mfengu were forcibly removed from the land by the apartheid government in the 1970s, but returned (in part) in the 1990’s when the democratic government came into power.
In 2009 we put our first nine calves onto grazing in Tsitsikama. Hlubi and I negotiated with Rasi, the “Isibonda”, the headman. He agreed that we could make use of the “Bull Camp” until such time as our calves were completely self-sufficient and no longer taking the nutrient rich pellets they were being fed every evening. We were very pleased to have access to the “Bull Camp” because of all the hundred and seventy two hectares that make up the Wittekleibos farm, which was home to the Mfengu community, this one hectare camp was by far the most secure, with very sturdy fences. It was the camp that the prize breeding bull would be secured in and into which cows would be brought in order for the bull to do his business without too much running around all over the extensive grassland.
The calves seemed content enough as they were released into the camp. They had been raised by a redheaded farmer just ten kilometres up the road. His name is Gerhard. He is maybe ten years younger than me, but insists calling me “Oom” in the respectful tone reserved for when one speaks to elders. Gerhard’s business model is to buy these calves in from farmers in the district that have no need for them, usually because they are running dairies and find the calves to be an unnecessary inconvenience to their operations. Gerhard takes great care to then rear these calves by hand, initially bottle feeding them three times a day and then slowly introducing pellets and grass.
By sunset on the day that they arrived, the calves were beginning to become restless and noisy. “Mooing” loudly at the top of their voices and pacing up and down the fence line. One by one each of the them found some way through the fence and were headed up the gravel road toward where they must have believed Gerhard’s farm was. When they were chased back into the Bullcamp (not an easy job to chase nine belligerent, single minded calves in the opposite direction to which they have got their minds set on) they would settle for a few minutes only to be headed up the gravel road toward the national highway again. The problem was only resolved by enclosing the calves in a very small; completely escape proof kraal for two weeks. By that time they were settled and had come to accept that this was now their new home.
Now years later, when I drive past the Bull Camp at Tsitiskama and see the giant majestic glistening bull gently lounging behind the fence, I know that he is behind that fence (that can’t even hold in my puny weaner calves) only because he chooses to be behind it. If the bull were so much as lean on the fence he would flatten it.  He could leap over it without building up a sweat. Of course this is so completely true of us and our everyday lives whether we live in the city or the farm. We all, in some way or another live out our lives behind barriers that we choose not to challenge. We stay in our jobs, we stay in the suburbs and townships we were born into, we stay in our relationships and or in our circle of friends. Sometimes we even complain that we are contained and limited by the “fences” of class or family or race or gender or education, but seldom do we challenge the “fences”.
The bull does not challenge the fences because the farmer makes sure he has enough water and grazing (and a willing cow now and again). By giving a little to the bull, the farmer makes his own life easier, and spends very little of his time driving up and down looking for runaway bulls. Where the farmer becomes greedy though, perhaps rather using the bull camp to build a shopping centre and constraining the bull to a small enclosure, without grazing or water or cows, he will find the bull becomes unhappy and becomes determined to be elsewhere. Our society is a little like this. An angry population becomes determined to break the rules (perhaps like the EFF in parliament) To respond by sending in armed police or building higher fences around the secure complexes of the rich is to not understand the problem.
The truth is that the poor and hungry don’t need very much to remain placated and stay within the boundaries that the rich and powerful have historically set for them. The rich and powerful elites know that if the poor and hungry challenge the boundaries and run amok they become a great danger to the order of things. This law is fundamental. Every society that has tried for extended periods of time to make the lives of the miserable more miserable than what can be tolerated has paid the price in a big way. A wise farmer knows not to abuse the power he holds over his animals and in the same way wise powerful elites will only survive if they know this to be true of the economy and the politics that gives order to it. That’s just the way things are; it’s the law of the farm.

In fact it is quite easy for the elite to contain the masses and the individuals that make up the masses when these masses have no vision; when they have no idea of a place they would rather be. Even a heavy powerful bull will wither away in a field with just a little grazing and some muddy water. The calves in my story are however a different matter altogether. Presented with the same grazing and the same water that was good enough for the bull, they were not content. They “knew” they belonged somewhere else. The knowledge made them challenge the fences. And so it is with us. The few that do challenge the boundaries and limitations are those that know where they want to be and believe that they belong in that other place beyond what is currently appearing to constrain them.  I suppose my calves who believed so strongly that they belonged back at Gerhard’s farm, that they were prepared to challenge and to overcome the fences that contained even the biggest and strongest bulls of Wittekleibos. So too,  it is a clear vision we need to develop in our minds that must drive an unwavering passion and desire to be beyond those factors that we have come to believe are limiting us. This is the way we will become free, because this is an observed and recorded fundamental law of the human condition and a fundamental and observed law of the farm.

Law of the farm number eight: Two Tilapia tanks are better than one, Four tanks are even better

I have been growing Tilapia for some time. They are a fantastic fish species. I have only recently moved them to the farm, from where I kept them in the backyard in Walmer. I built a hot house for them, because they seem to do even better in warmer water. They survive in the wild in our region in the rivers and streams though; to I am not sure how much worse they would have done without the hothouse. At Pebblespring farm, I have now released the Grey Tilapia I had in to our far dam. Other I gave to my neighbour Richard who released them in his dam. Richards have been in the dam though the summer and winter and have done very well. I released them as fingerlings no larger than 5 centimetres and he has been fishing them out pan sized. My plan is to not fish any of ours out until next summer; giving them time to establish and grow our dam is a lot more alive with bulrushes, edge plants and duckweed, so I am expecting even better results that Richard has had.

 

Excrement filtered out of the water with an Aquaponics system
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There are a whole lot a great things about Tilapia, once I start talking about them I tend to go on a bit. What I like most about them is that they are omnivores. In fact they can survive almost entirely of a vegetarian diet. They love to eat duckweed. Duckweed (Lemna) in itself is an amazing species. It is a flowering plant that floats in the surface of the water. Apparently it is the smallest of all the flowering plants. On a dam or pond it would look like a green carpet, but on closer inspection you will find that the carpet is not a mass at all, but rather a collection of little plants including leaves, roots and flowers. One little plant will comfortably fit on a fingertip. These fantastic plants can grow very quickly if the conditions in the water are right. It is not uncommon for them to double their population within a twenty four hour period. The best part of all is that they are a very good Tilapia feed, or chicken or pig or cattle feed. I have heard it said that duckweed has a higher protein content that Soya Beans and that it is eaten as salad of sorts in Vietnam or thereabouts. I have eaten a mouthful or two. It’s quite crunchy and fresh, but a little tasteless to my tongue.
Tilapia were harvested from local water systems

 

The next best thing about Tilapia is they taste great. I am a very fussy fish eater. We have caught too many great tasting fish in the ocean to be able to tolerate poor tasting fish. Tilapia is excellent, not at all muddy or mushy, but very good tasting. Other than that, they are on my favourite list because the species I grow (Orochromis Mossambicus) are indigenous to my province and because they tolerate a wide range of water quality and temperatures. Which brings me to my story here. Tilapia do well in tanks and they are easy for an amateur like myself to attempt to grow. But even Tilapia need the basics in place. They need Oxygen, then need filtration and they need food. In fact in that order of priority. I keep my Tilapia in 1kl tanks salvaged from Industry rubbish heaps in town. I have noticed that while they can go without food for some time, especially when the water temperature is low, they definitely cannot live very log without the water being oxygenated. They can survive a longer time with a filtration system broken down, but if the electricity goes down and the bubblers stop working you could have only a few hours before the fish start gulping on the surface then die. I have lost fish like this a number of times. It’s a risk that comes with keeping fish in high density tank environments. One of the ways to guard against disaster is not to have all the fish in the same tank, rather have two tanks, with two filtrations systems and two aeration systems. It then becomes less likely that disaster will befall both tanks. Even better have four tanks, or forty or four hundred. Even better have each tank with a different species or strains. Equip each tank with a separate power supply for the aeration and filtration system; because safety does not just come in numbers, it comes in variety. One hundred fish in a two kilolitre tank is not as good a two on kilolitre tanks with 50 fish each. By the extension of this logic, it is in fact much better to have the fish in a series of dams and ponds where there is a variety of temperatures, plant species, crustaceans, water depth and oxygen levels. Variety is what brings stability.
Variety is what we strive for in Pebblespring farm. We are interested in different animal species, different plant species and different varieties of species. In this way when disaster strikes not everything is destroyed. The thing about disaster of course is it always strikes. Variety is the defence against disaster. Variety allows disaster to be a sculptor instead of an executioner. Variety allows the stronger, more appropriate varieties live, thrive and reproduce. This is why we have no interest in planting the whole farm, to mielies or sweet potatoes or geraniums. While monocropping may at first seem sensible, it is in fact high risk. It seems sensible, because you only need to run one set of machinery, one set of training to grow and harvest, one supplier of seed stock, one buyer of your output, one category of staff to labour on your fields. Or course we can see though that it also just need one category of insect to get out of control, one Seed Company to hike their prices or one buyer of your goods to undermine your prices. Suddenly monocultures seem very risky, and I am not just talking about farming, what I am talking about is the way we prepare ourselves to face the world. I am talking about how we educate ourselves, becoming highly specialised, becoming a “one trick pony”. All of the advice I ever here coming out of our schooling system advises that we become more and more specialised, more and more focused. More focus less variety. When we reach the top of the education pile we so highly regard that we referred to by a different name. We are now “Dr” Smith, no longer “Bob”, no longer “Mr Smith”.  There is no similar incentive or encouragement to develop our lives in such a way as to nurture a range of skills, experience and passions. To be clear, I am not trying to introduce a new concept, I am perhaps rather trying to point out how far our modern urban system has wondered from the ideals of even classical Greece or Renaissance Europe. Leonardo da Vinci’s idea of the Renaissance Man was the idea of a life of variety spanning athleticism, scientific mindedness and artistic inclination. In our working lives, in our businesses, we are easily tempted to occupy a very small niche and to do only that thing. Bad idea! Not only is it boring to wake up every morning for the rest of your life to look forward to doing exactly the same thing, but it is counter-productive. The economy changes, it breathes in an out, sometime the economy wants beach towels, sometimes the economy wants raincoats. You and I must be flexible enough to move with this. Just because we are expert raincoat makers does not mean we “deserve” that it should rain. The universe does not understand the word “deserve” the farm does not understand the word “deserve”. The universe and the farm understand about variety though. This is the way it has always been. This is the way things are.

 

Variety and balance in a life, in a family and in a community is what we should hold out as a fundamental objective. It is a theme that should be non-negotiable because it is derived from an observed fundamental law of the farm which states that: “Two Tilapia tanks are better than one, four tanks are even better”

Law of the Farm Number 10: “Observe the stream before building the Dam”

The most precious and important thing about Pebblespring Farm is that it has water. Water rises up in springs on the valley floor, just inside the fence line to the west. The water is always there, no matter how dry the season. Gavin Flanagan, over the road from us, says he have not seen the springs run dry since he has been visiting there as a child in the fifties.
A small stream runs from where it wells up in the ground, first into a little marshy area overgrown with bulrushes (cattails to the American reader) and Poplar trees. Then into a dam that has probably been there since the seventies. When I first came to the farm it was all very over grown. It took me more than a month of weekends to even find the dam. I could see it on Google Earth. I have heard the dam spoken of by the old people, but the bush was so thick than I could not find the dam. I would try hack a straight line through the bush in the direction I reckoned the dam to be from the maps and aerial photos. But I would go off course and miss the dam to the east and come out on the pasture on the other side of the forest, or I would miss the dam to the east and find myself trudging through the marsh and the bull rushes before coming again to the pasture. I began to think the dam had washed away completely in a big flood and that my aerial photograph was just out of date. Eventually though, we found the dam. Cutting through the bush we came to a depression and a bank with a bed or bulrushes in from of us. It looked like it could be the dam we had been looking for, but had to scale a tree on the edge to be able to see over the tall bulrushes to the small patch of open water in the centre of what remained of the dam. Slowly we cleared a path along the dam wall. We were working then with hand saws and garden pruners. I had not yet bought the chainsaw. The going was slow, especially in those places that were thick with brambles that would rip through the skin on forearms and legs. Jeans were ripped to threads at the thigh. I would come home bleeding and exhausted I the evenings.
When the bush was cleared enough, we could see that a donga (erosion trench) had formed through the dam wall toward the south pasture. Soon we were able to do a small repair, adding an overflow pipe. A very practical idea inspired by an Austrian farmer, Sepp Holzer. He refers to this device as a “pope”, basically a vertical length of pipe fitted onto the horizontal piece that is buried under the dam wall. The basic principal being that the water level in the dam can rise only to the level of the “pope”, thus protecting overflow that could damage the dam and cause it to wash away. This temporary arrangement has held. We widened the path on the dam wall enough to take a quadbike and then later to be able to take a car. We currently use this route as our driveway and it has worked quite well. The truth though, is that I have not spent enough time observing the stream and the dam. We have not yet had a big down pour like the one in 2006 or the one in 1968. I can only guess what will happen to the dam wall under those circumstances. I am though aware that my role is to observe how things work. To observe the land as it changes through the seasons and through the years. Out of this observation, it is for me to take guidance from the land, from the farm. This guidance will inform me of the actions that I need to take. Wendell Berry, in A Gift of Good Land, says: “To see and respect what is there is the first duty of stewardship”
This idea of stewardship informs my approach not only to the stream and the dam, but to the forest and the marsh, the pasture and the brush. My approach is to observe. To see where I can help. To see what intervention I must make to assist the land to achieve the fullness of its potential. The role of steward is an important part of the land and of the farm. It is a role that I treasure, but it is a role that is different on Pebblespring Farm to what it would have been on the next door farm or on a farm 100km way or 1000km away. It is a role that is different in every different place because on the significant portion of time that is spent, and must be spent in observation.  I spend time observing the pasture, what plants come up at what times of the year? I spend time up on the hill, observing how the water is washing the topsoil in the big rains. I spend time observing the dam, noticing how the water level rises for two or three days after a downpour. I notice how the Tilapia become active on the surface when the water is warm. I observe how the duckweed on the dame looks different when it regrows after the Tilapia have eaten it. I observe how the green algae from the floor of the dam rises to the top after the Tilapia feed at the bottom.
I could not have approached the farm from a distance and with predetermined idea of what to do there. I could not have sent in the bulldozers, flattened everything to achieve what I may have put on paper as a vision for the site. This though is the conventional approach. It is an approach that is forced on us by people with accountant and lawyer minds. It is an approach that separated design from implementation for practical “cost control” reasons. This is the approach that government takes when it takes on developments. This is the approach that corportate sector takes when it takes on development, but it is not the kind of approach that makes sense if we are looking for the most effective response to the challenge. Because it is while I am working that I am observing, and out of observing comes design, and from design comes work. These things flow seamlessly into each other and form each other.
But I am talking here about observation. How critical it is to the farm and how indispensable it is to any project. Whether your attempt is to date a girl, raise a child or win a soccer match. We must immerse ourselves in the observation of the activity. We must begin to see the patterns; we must know the activity intimately. We must give ourselves time to formulate our plans and when we act, we act in such a way as to be able to observe the impact of our actions, and then modify our actions in response. At first glance Law of the farm number 10: “Observe the stream before you build the dam” may seem at odds with the contemporary truism “Go big or go home”. No its not. “Go big” we must. There is no time for pussyfooting around, in relationships, in healing the planet or in business. What I am saying is that, in order to “Go big” you must invest time and effort into observation otherwise there can be little doubt that you will “Go Home”
So, start today. Take time to observe the taste of the morning coffee. Notice how the dog feels when you stroke it when it comes to greet you.  Take note of how the bacon smells as it fries in the pan. These are small steps, but trust their significance. Even when the bad stuff happens and some idiot cuts in front of you in the traffic, or spills Coca-Cola on your new white T-shirt. Observe your anger. Notice how it feels in your chest, notice how it migrates to your stomach after a few minutes. Feel the heat as it rises in your face. Just observe it. Take notice of it. Don’t try to stop any of this. Don’t intervene; just get into the habit of observing. The time for action will come and at that time your action will be informed by a deeper level of awareness. Your actions will be reflective of a consciousness that informs them.